Here is my message for Easter Sunday, 23 April 2000, at Walker Valley UMC. The Scriptures for this morning were Acts 10: 34 – 43, 1 Corinthians 15: 1 – 11, and John 20: 1 – 18.
The recent events on the stock market got me to wondering about the value of things. As the events have shown, if you do not know the true value of your product or service, you will quickly find yourself going out of business. Coupled with the fall in stock values was a note from a newsletter that I get, coincidentally by e-mail, that questioned the values of individuals who have been started these companies.
In that note, the author wonder if the purpose behind these companies was to offer a service or simply provide a vehicle for the developers to get in, make a lot of money, and then get out. This author was pointing out that type of approach was doomed to failure because there was a lack of substance to the business.
On that Sunday morning some 2000 years ago, perhaps on a day not unlike today when it was chilly and cold, the disciples must have been thinking about their efforts of the last three years. For the disciples, the turmoil of the last three days, from their dinner with Jesus on Thursday through the trial and crucifixion on Friday, must have been disheartening. Three years of effort and the hopes of an immediate, powerful kingdom on earth were gone and all they could face was the prospect of opposition from all sides. For Peter and the other disciple, presumed to be John, the writer of the Gospel, though they had been taught and heard from Jesus that the prophecies would be fulfilled, to see the empty tomb that morning must have been extremely disheartening. As Mary Magdalene cried out, “someone has taken our Lord and we do not know where they have taken Him.”
How we measure our worth is a matter of much discussion. Unfortunately, for many people today, worth is measured more in terms of what one has and not what one person is. It is astonishing that the Son of God who, more than anyone else, was free to choose what he would, choose not only a mother and a people but also a social position. He chose to be a wage earner and lose himself in an obscure Middle Eastern village. Jesus chose to lose himself in the daily monotony of thirty years’ rough, miserable work and to separate himself from a society that “counts.” And when it was all said and done, He chose to die in the most humiliating of ways possible. But what was gained was beyond measure.
When John Wesley began his ministry, there was a belief that being poor was a fate given to you by God and there was very little you could do about it. If you were poor, it was because you lead a sinful life and were to be pitied. To this, Wesley responded
“Has poverty nothing worse in it that this, that it makes men liable to be laughed at?… Is not want of food something worse than this? God pronounced it as a curse upon man, that he should earn it “by the sweat of his brow.” But how many are there in this Christian country, that toil, and labor, and sweat, and have it not at last, but struggle with weariness and hunger together? Is it not worse for one, after a hard day’s labor, to come back to a poor, cold, dirty, uncomfortable lodging, and to find there not even the food which is needful to repair his wasted strength? You that live at ease in the earth, that want nothing but eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand how well God hath dealt with you, is it not worse to seek bread day by day, and find none? Perhaps to find the comfort also of five or six children crying for what he has not to give! Were it not that he is restrained by an unseen hand, would he not soon “curse God and die”? O want of bread! Want of bread! Who can tell what this means, unless he hath felt it himself? I am astonished it occasions no more than heaviness even in them that believe.” (From John Wesley’s sermon “Heaviness Through Manifold Temptations”)
Wesley pointed out many times that the Gospel was not limited to a select few chosen by status or financial class but to all.
Perhaps the greatest aspect of Jesus’ ministry was that he saw the true worth in individuals. He did not defined people in terms of labels or job descriptions; he saw them in terms of their true worth. When He looked at Peter, he did not see a fisherman but a leader of tremendous potential.
When He looked at Mary Magdalene, he did not see an adulteress but a human being capable of profound love. Her reputation did not keep Jesus from commissioning her to bring the gospel message to the apostles.
Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, “I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.'”
Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to him. (John 20: 17 – 18)
Many times, in his letters, Paul spoke of his own unworthiness. In his first letter to the Corinthians, he wrote,
For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. (1 Corinthians 15: 9 – 11)
Paul considered himself to be the least of the apostles because he had previously persecuted the church, and as he pointed out in verses 5 – 8, others had see the resurrection of Christ and were better prepared to tell the world. But it was through the grace of God that he was able to go out and preach to the world.
In the first reading for today, Peter spoke of God’s impartiality.
In truth, I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.
Today, as we celebrate Jesus’ triumph over death, we also celebrate the beginning of a new business, one that started that Sunday morning some 2000 years ago. It is a people business built on one concept, that God loves us. The worth of this business is found in two parables that Jesus told his disciples.
In Matthew 13: 44 – 45, Jesus spoke of the value of the kingdom of heaven.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for you over he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13: 44 – 45)
The central truth to these parables is the immense value of the heavenly kingdom outweighs any sacrifice or inconvenience one might encounter on earth. Though the first individual found his treasure by accident, the second found his by a diligent search. No matter how a person is led to Christ’s kingdom, its values and delights are beyond estimation.
The good news of the gospel is not for a certain population nor do you have to do anything special to receive the good news. Simply put, in order to receive the remission of sins, all one has to do is believe — nothing more, nothing less.
To every nation, To every person, the invitation to the kingdom of heaven is given.
And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.” (Acts 10: 42- 43)
Paul told the Corinthians, “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received; that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried and, that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” Paul did not originate the proclamation of Jesus that he delivered to the Corinthians; he simply gave the Corinthians what he himself had received. Paul saw himself as a link in the long chain of witnesses to the death and resurrection of Christ. This day, we too become a part of that chain of witnesses, taking the message of the gospel into the world.